It was this very Friday morning some 20 years ago I got up early to sit at this very desk to write my farewell sermon for St John’s Thornham. (Actually I have since replaced the desk but the prose doesn’t flow as well). We had moved house on the Wednesday but were returning to Rochdale for our final Sunday.
It seemed strange sitting in our new vicarage addressing in my mind the people of the church I was about to leave. What had happened to make this move happen? How had God guided us to get us here?
I wrote way back in June how we had set God a deadline but typically God had waited until after deadline before pointing us to Christ Church, Aughton through an advert in all places, the Church Times.
What happened then was an exercise in guidance. We often overemphasise the difficulties in guidance but in my experience it is usually straightforward. After all God owes it to himself as well as to us to make his ways clear.
Winkie Pratney (what a name!) observes “Many say they can’t get God’s guidance, when they really mean they wish he would show them an easier way.”
So I sent away to Aughton for the briefing document. In those days these were usually one side of A4. Christ Church sent 10 pages.
I decided to go for it and spent a whole afternoon writing my application, the last time I handwrote a document of any significance. My bronze age computer had just packed up – possibly an indication I was on the right track!
In my covering letter to the parish representatives I explained that should I be invited for interview, we were about to head for a campsite chaplaincy in the Dordogne. Incidentally it was only after I had handed my application in to David Dennison that we found out where the vicarage was – we had failed to locate it on our exploratory visit. I recall saying to Jacqui – “Never let it be said that we came here for the vicarage!”
Just before the interviews (quite an experience), a whole series of meetings in David’s home in Prescot Road, we took the liberty of visiting Scarisbrick Hall School. Wrong way round but we were short of time before setting off for France. We met with the headteacher on a confidential basis, not of course realizing that David Raynor was to be the grandfather of two of our future granddaughters! Weird.
So interviews over, we set off for France. Using all the criteria Christ Church seemed to be the right place to go – it ticked all the boxes. And if I had to decide there and then I would have said Yes.
But something can seem right on paper but not work out in practice. Such was the importance of this decision I was hoping for some indication from God. I recall thinking as we drove down the M6 that there was the potential of our holiday being distracted by the need for decision.
We drove the 530 miles from Cherbourg to our campsite in the Dordogne in one day. On arrival at our emplacement, I fell out of the car but had sufficient energy to say hello to our neighbour, a friendly man from Glasgow.
I mentioned that it was bad enough driving all the way from Rochdale but it was even further for him.
“No problem,” he said. “He had broken his journey with a visit to a relative.” “Where about?” I asked, just in conversation. “A place called Aughton” was his response. “Prescot Road, Aughton.”
We had only been at Le Moulin du Roch four minutes but the location of my interviews came up in casual conversation! I didn’t let on and this Glaswegian never knew how those few words carried so much significance.
Of course, you are not going to change the whole direction of your life on the basis of such a coincidence but I took it at the time as a spark of God’s guidance. It just goes to show that you cannot underestimate his ability to get his message through.
“Listen’ says Jesus – “if you have ears to hear!” (Matthew 11:15)
You can read how God guided our new reader, Jonathan Lock, from the Diocesan mailing from this link: